By Eamon Levesque and Madeleine Thompson
This Augusts faculty retreat brought together 51 professors, three librarians and three administrative staff members to address pedagogy in relation to six categories writing, oral expression, language and culture, geography and spatial phenomena, visual literacy and new media, and scientific and quantitative reasoning. The retreat was made possible by a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
Joseph Murphy, director of the Center for Innovative Pedagogy (CIP), was the retreats main organizer and supervisor. People had some interesting takes on how to break these ideas apart, Murphy said. [The] oral expression [group] talked a lot about things that we could do in the co-curriculum. How could we make sure that students are given lots of opportunities, perhaps with faculty, to practice speaking and discussion.
Professor of English Theodore Mason, who attended the retreat, said it helped faculty answer questions regarding broadening teaching techniques in the classroom. Lets say I wanted to include geographic literacy in my Introduction to African American Literature course, Mason said. What combination of maps and charts do I need to use? These are questions that can only really be answered by others who have been teaching.
Participants also identified several initiatives during the two-day retreat, including an inventory project of the skill sets Kenyon values. The benefit of taking the time to complete such a project, according to Murphy, is that it will create a database for educators and the CIP to look back on in several years. The inventory is structural, Murphy said. Thats the thing that will take a lot of time.
Of the $750,000 donated by the Mellon Foundation, a portion has been set aside for a next phase project called the Call For Participation (CFP). This money will go to professors who apply with specific plans for research or ideas that can immediately benefit their course, according to Murphy. Its going to change someones Kenyon education as soon as the spring, he said. Some student is going to learn something they might not have learned.
Along with other senior staff members, Provost Nayef Samhat, who helped organize the retreat, was a participant. [Education] is not about satisfying requirements just for the sake of meeting a requirement, Samhat said. Its about developing skills that have application in the real world, beyond what is required of you.
Samhat said he hopes these new methods will help teach specific skills [students] need to learn not only [immediate] content, but content you may be learning long after you leave the classroom.
Samhat said the guiding purpose behind this close inspection of the Kenyon curriculum is getting students to a higher level of adopting and applying different skills to complex issues in their own fields of interest. He said the retreat was less about the subject matter taught at Kenyon and more about how it is being taught.
Though only 51 out of 174 full- and part-time professors participated in the retreat, Murphy is optimistic that conversations that began during the retreat will carry on in the classrooms and the CFP. One thing we were really proud of is we had really good uptake among new faculty. We even had some of our faculty just hired this year who participated, Murphy said. And you know those are the people that are going to live with these changes the longest.
People were really energized by [the retreat], Murphy said. I think people enjoyed and benefited from the experience of thinking about general education at Kenyon and trying to ask ourselves some hard questions about how its organized and about how it could be organized.